Common Sense Catholicity Item #5: The Bible Was Never Alone

            The Christian scriptures were not always as we know them today. In fact, it has only been about 1600 years that the current list of books and letters that comprise the Bible has been used. For quite some time, the Christian scriptures were left in an open status, and even today, there are a few versions used by differing Christian communities. Over time, the universal Church was able to canonize an authoritative set of Scriptures representing her faith. Because of the witness of history by the ancient Church, she was able to compile the Bible and testify to its truth and inspiration by God.
            While the Gospels were still being written, Christians said “the Scriptures,” and meant the scriptures that the Jewish people were using in the synagogues at the time of Christ and the Apostles, what we now call the Old Testament. Even during that Early Church period, though, the Old Testament scriptures were not made up of universally agreed upon books. There were two sets of books commonly used as the Old Testament scriptures, one Hebrew version and the other Greek. The latter was the more commonly used outside of the church in Palestine, since Greek was a popular language of the time, as is evident in the fact that the entire New Testament was written in Greek.
            While the Greek version of the Old Testament, called “the Septuagint” was already being widely used in the communities, the Jewish rabbis and scribes were still disputing which books they should consider Scripture. Eventually, over a few centuries after Christ and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD at Jerusalem, the Jewish rabbis began using only books that they had copies of in Hebrew, rather than Greek. The Hebrew canon of Scripture is currently the one Protestant Christians use. However, from even the Apostolic times and following, the Septuagint was in continued use by both the Eastern and the Western Christian Church. In fact, the majority of Old Testament quotes that are made by the New Testament authors are directly from the Septuagint version. Of course, for the universal Christian Church, the authority of the scribes and Pharisees had ended with the birth of the Church and the handing on of Christ’s authority to the Apostles.Thus, there was no need to copy what the Jewish leaders were doing with their canon of scripture.
            As for the New Testament, the list of “books” or letters had not been finalized for several hundred years after the death of the Apostles. Both the Greek Old Testament and various letters to church communities from the Apostles and other bishops were widely read within the liturgy. Many communities had their own letters or writings they had received and which were read as Scripture. The church in Corinth, for example, read the letters of St. Clement, bishop of Rome (c. 92-99 AD), alongside the other scriptures for a few centuries.
In the fourth century, the universal Church began to canonize her own New Testament, while officially defining which Old Testament to use. St. Athanasius, whose theological efforts around 325 AD solidified how the Church understands Christ’s divine and human identity, is often credited with at least having a list of books the same as what the Christian Church now uses as its New Testament. The Synods of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage (397 AD) in Africa compiled a list of books both the Old and New Testaments of which they submitted to Rome for ratification. This list of 73 books is the same as that used by the Catholic Church universally today.

Common Sense Catholicity:
            Jesus did not leave a book for his followers to read. He left us people, whom he called the Church. The people of God are a historical people, with a historical witness to real events in time. This is true for the universal Church as it is for the people of Israel. The Scriptures are evidence and product of that historical witness by the people of God.
            The people of God wrote the Scriptures over millennia. For the New Testament, all of it was written within the first 100 years after Christ. The Apostles were first to witness the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They handed it on to most towns and communities by word of mouth, later to some by written letter. The Apostles in turn placed in positions of teaching authority those deemed worthy to carry on that witness, either because they had seen the historic events themselves, or had been witnesses to them secondhand. The Apostolic Succession down through the ages has given to us a clear and visible lineage of Tradition of the truth of the event of Jesus Christ and the significance of his Person to those who believe the Word.
            The Church is a living witness to history – the history of the acts of God and his peoples. Of course, that history was originally comprised by the historic events in relation to Israel. It was upon the event of Jesus being born, living, healing and preaching, suffering and dying, then finally rising again and ascending to Heaven that the same people of God were able to give witness to Jesus’ fulfillment of all the law and prophecies of time past. That same people were able to testify to the events of Pentecost, to the teachings of the Apostles and of their successors, to the practices of faith in the communities, and especially to the validity of the writings in Scripture.
            While the Church holds that the Scriptures are inspired by God, written by broken humans, those same Scriptures needed when they were written, and still need just as much now, a living witness to stand by and testify to the true events they contain. That witness is the universal Church, extended from the Apostles themselves. The Scriptures were never alone, and never can be alone; for, it is the Church who extends out her hands with those same Scriptures, binding them together and saying, “These texts, these letters – they are true to my Faith and witness.” It is she, the Church, who is “the pillar and foundation of truth,”2standing firm to say, “I was there.”

Matthew 23:2; 16:18-19
1 Timothy 3:15

Common Sense Catholicity Item #4: Water and Spirit, Even For Infants

            Outside the Catholic Church, there is a wide variety of perspectives on baptism and its effects. A good number of Christians believe that baptism is a mere symbol, perhaps holding enough significance as “obeying Christ.” A common belief is that baptism is an outward symbol of an inward event of spiritual rebirth. Interestingly, the Church agrees on this last point, teaching that the Sacrament of Baptism is a symbol. Yet, she goes further (and the concept applies to other sacraments), teaching that the outward symbol has an inward and real effect of that which is symbolized, by the power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In this sacrament, the symbol of being submersed in or washed by water effects purification of sin and rebirth in the Holy Spirit (CCC, 1262).                     
            While the Church does believe that God is not limited by his own designs, she also testifies that he has made baptism the ordinary way in which sinners are forgiven, are reborn and enter into covenant with God through Christ in faith. The Church recognizes that the Spirit “goes where it wills,” and so is witness to a “baptism of desire” or “baptism of blood,” the latter being of martyrdom (CCC, 1257-1259). Yet, since the very birth of the Church at Pentecost, it was preached that there is a “baptism for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38). Within thirty years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, St. Paul wrote to Titus, “[God] saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5 NRSVCE).
            The Apostles and New Testament authors clearly looked back to the Scriptures of the Old Testament and saw the sacrament of baptism prophesied and foretold as the method by which men and women would be cleansed of their sins and be saved for the gift of eternal life. The priest, Ezekiel, six centuries before Christ, prophesied the following word of God:

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  (Ezekiel 36:25-26 NRSVCE)

In parallel, St. Paul would later write in his letter to the Hebrews, “Let us approach [God] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22 NRSVCE). In other places, St. Paul would compare the crossing of the Red Sea with baptism, and St. Peter would write that Noah’s ark in the flood would prefigure baptism “which now saves you” (1 Cor. 10:1-4; 1 Peter 3:21). The Old is in the New, and the New in the Old.

Common Sense Catholicity: Even Infants

            “Ah, but wait,” one might say. “What does any of this have to do with babies? Even if baptism causes new birth in the Holy Spirit, and reception of that same Spirit into the soul, faith is obviously required and no infant can have faith.” Well, the Church would certainly agree that faith is required for salvation; no one can deny the faith and keep eternal life within them. Yet, she also knows that salvation comes by grace alone, a free gift and not from our own selves (Eph. 2:8-9). The Spirit of God is given to us by God’s mercy, through water of rebirth, as the above quoted Titus 3:5 emphasizes. Baptism is a work that God does in us, and not that we ourselves do. That same mercy is something God gives to whomever he chooses (Rom. 9:18).
            So, the Church has witnessed that God has chosen the little children to be members of his kingdom: “to such belongs the kingdom of God,” Jesus said (Matt. 19:14). The Scriptures themselves cry out this very act of God giving the gift of his Spirit to an infant, and a yet unborn infant at that. At the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Elizabeth, while Mary was pregnant with Jesus, St. John the Baptist leapt within the womb of his mother upon hearing the Blessed Mother’s voice. Several months prior, an angel of the Lord prophesied about John to his father, Zechariah, that “even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:15 NRSVCE). At hearing the greeting of Mary, John was filled with the Spirit, by the same power of Christ, who was within Mary’s womb.
            We see, then, that the Spirit of God is not limited to those who are of the age of reason. God invites all of his children to be partakers in the Divine Life, in the life of the Trinity. It is through baptism that we normally receive this wonderful gift. And, so, St. Peter would confidently proclaim on that famous Pentecost day to those he called to faith and baptism, “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39 NRSVCE).

Love Demands Justice

        The New Age movement tells us that God is a god of love, and that he will eventually bring all people to himself, that his love will never let anyone be separated from him. From this perspective, all sins are mere mistakes, which will be corrected in time; they have no ultimate consequences and certainly no need of forgiveness. “A loving God would never send his children to any hell,” the New Age proposes. Sadly, many Christians are being swayed by this logic, perhaps leading either to belief in a God who cannot be separated from his creation, or else leaving the faith altogether, because they understandably just can't see how a loving God and eternal hell could co-exist. It is easy to fall into this state of belief without taking into consideration the fullness of love, and all its extents. True love, however, demands justice for all, not courteousness and niceness to all; love is not an empty benevolence.
        First, let's define several items while we attempt to show the orthodox understanding of God's love. Hell, in a very simple definition, is the permanent separation from the God of Love for all eternity. In New Age beliefs, oftentimes, the soul is the only permanent thing about a person. In Catholicism, the body is also meant to be permanent, and will be resurrected and perfected; body and soul make up an entire human being. In the New Age realm, there is often a belief in a nearly infinite amount of time to “get it right” or to reach God, perhaps through multiple life-times. There are also other forms of universalism that teach all souls will go to heaven. Catholicism teaches that it is appointed for human beings to die once, then there comes a judgment to solidify one's life decision for God or against God, for Love or against Love, dying either in a state of repentance or in a state of sin.
        Those items being defined a bit, we now have two paradigms. The first, which is a belief that sin against Love has no permanent or eternal consequences, holds that God “forgives” every soul, because God loves every soul equally. Eventually, a time comes under this logic for the Crucifixion of Jesus to be irrelevant, since all sins are mere mistakes that can be corrected. In the diagram below, I show this first paradigm in its simplest form.
Diagram A, Note: Blue arrows represent benevolence

In this paradigm, all persons are forgiven and received, in the end, into God's presence (at minimum). When looking at this diagram, God's love seems so right, as it encompasses everyone impartially. No one is left behind; no one is hurt by a God who judges mere limited creatures with unlimited weight and burden. Love wins over all “evils” in this view, if evil even truly exists (as some believe it does not). God's mercy and love is perceived to have no bounds and no limits, reaching all souls equally.
        Before we get to the Catholic and orthodox Christian paradigm, let's show what is really going on behind the scene of this first paradigm. In reality, God does not deal with just objects of people, who have things “happen” to them. Instead, God is in relation with persons who are both sinners (those who commit evils) and also victims of sin (those who are hurt by evils committed). All of us fall into both categories, in truth. What, then, would happen if God were to show his forgiveness towards both victim and sinner, without the sinner repenting of his or her willful sin? For example, if a murderer or an adulterer is utterly unrepentant and will continue in his or her way against love toward God and neighbor (or spouse), but God shows the same forgiveness towards that person as to the victim of that murder or that adultery. Let's use, for the sake of gravity, the example of a child abuser who is unrepentant. What would happen if God were to forgive and bless the abuser, while at the same time that he forgives and blesses the victim child supposedly in the same manner of any wrongs they've committed (however small or large)? In this latter example, the victim has no defense, especially not by God. The Catholic understanding of sin is one that understands an effect on the community – on our neighbors. In other words, there is always a victim of sin, even secret sins.
        When we take into account that there are victims of sin, we start to see a little more clearly. God would not be loving the victim of sin at all if he were to bless the unrepentant murderer, the adulterer, the abuser. No, he would be allowing and blessing injustice against the victim to continue. He would no longer be defending the justice due to those victims of sin. Injustice has no part in true love. So, then, while taking into account the victim of sin, we see that if God forgave and blessed all persons “the same,” then the first diagram would look more like the one below.
Diagram B, Note: Blue arrows represent benevolence, while red represents injustice
God himself would be enabling and contributing to further injustice. There would be no true love for the victim of sin who would continue to be under abuse and oppression.
        The Church knows a God who is much greater, who truly is Love and who defends those who are victims of sin. She knows a God who rescues the oppressed, feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and sets captives free. Therefore, she preaches justice – justice for all those suffering from sin, whether by disease of sin or by injury of sin against them. All of God's works are crowned with Mercy. So, he seeks out to make right all things, to restore us all to righteousness, to wholeness, to peace. The diagram below shows the Catholic model of God's love and forgiveness with all parties cooperating: God forgives the sinner, while the sinner repents and turns to love his or her neighbor; the victim is also healed by God's love, as justice is restored.
Diagram C, Note: Blue arrows represent benevolence and justice

        We can take this above image a step further. God's love demands justice for all those under oppression and who are wounded by sin, especially those who are in weakened states of life – orphans and widows. Yet, we believe that God's love demands justice for the sinner, too. That is, God wants to bring healing to the sick and diseased, especially those diseased by sin itself. He wants to bring the dignity of each individual back to its rightful status, as we were created to be, especially the sinner. So, of course, for him to forgive and heal, the sinner must repent and turn towards Love in all ways. Then, the soul's dignity is restored. This is called “righteousness,” making things right. So, we see that God's love is all-encompassing in justice – for victim and sinner. This is why Jesus spoke of himself as the shepherd who seeks out even the one lost sheep out of ninety-nine; he desperately desires the restoration of each soul.
        Taking the paradigm even a step further, God wants to not just defend the victim, but to heal the victim of the wounds. “By his wounds we are healed,” has a multifaceted meaning here (Is. 53:5); for, he calls us all to forgive our debtors. Jesus died not just for the sinner, but for the victim of sin. By his wounds, we can forgive those who have oppressed us and abused us. This is so important, that Jesus told us that “if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15 NRSVCE). All justice belongs to God. We must allow him to seek justice for ourselves and for others, whether sinner or victim of sin. If one does not forgive, the grudge is an injustice to the dignity of the other and their opportunity to be restored to wholeness.
        So, then, we find that God is not unjust towards souls. He is not unfair. Hell is not something for those who simply break the rules of God, as if this life were a Monopoly Game, but is an ultimate consequence of choosing to separate ourselves from Love. By not loving God and others, we are personally responsible for the willful destruction we spread, for the wounds that we give, and for the diseases that we perpetuate. How can God, who is Love, not seek the defense of those victims of sin, even the defense of our own selves who are slaves to sin? Love demands justice. God is not seeking empty benevolence for all; he wants justice for all – the healing and defense of each person's dignity. If we will not let him heal us, he cannot do so, by fact of our own free-will, for he is not an abuser himself.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
                – Isaiah 58:6-9 NRSVCE

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?
Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
                 – Ezekiel 18:23,25 NRSVCE

The Glory of the Infant

        Many of the saints of the Church have had great devotions to the Infant Jesus, including Saints Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio, Thérèse of the Infant Jesus, and Faustina. The saints' love for him as an infant overwhelmed their souls with peace and joy, humility and meekness. For those who are unfamiliar with the devotion to the Infant, it seems a very odd practice. Many other Christians only speak to Jesus as a grown man, which he currently is, even while seated at the right hand of the Father. Yet, we know that Christ is eternal, and his resurrected form is not as limited as our mortal bodies. At the birth of Jesus, the moment of God dwelling among us, we find a paradox and mystery of glory only available to us in faith.
        The apostle John wrote that when God “became flesh,” in the second person of the Trinity, “we have seen his glory, the glory as of the father's only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 NRSVCE). When we read the second chapter of Luke's gospel, we find the birth of Christ written as moment of glory over and over again. Indeed, Jesus himself is seen as the glory of God. “For my eyes have seen your salvation […] a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel,” said the Prophet Simeon with the Infant in his arms (Luke 2:30, 32 NRSVCE).
        This was not simply the glory of an infant born without sin, or even the glory of God as he is in heaven. No, instead, we understand that this infant is the glory of God in humility. Here lies a stumbling block for half of the world – that God himself has become a little babe, utterly dependent on humans, who are his own creation. If the angel Lucifer fell because of his heights of pride, the Incarnation was the perfectly opposite act of God. If Adam and Eve's first disobedience was due to their desire to “become like gods,” God in an opposite manner became human for us and for them. Thus, St. Paul declared his devotion to Christ as an infant when he wrote, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, […] emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil. 2:5-7 NRSVCE).
        St. Paul with all of those great saints before us called us to be like that little Child Jesus, same in humility and gentleness. Throughout their lives, the saints encountered the Infant Jesus calling them to be like himself in all ways. The Child calls us to trust in God as a child, to love as a child, to hope and to receive as a child. He was filled with grace and truth, and so imparts to us the same, if we become like him. “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus told his disciples (Matt. 18:3 NRSVCE). This Infant, born in poverty and perfect dependence, has all the power in the world to give unto us by grace. So, the saints held this Infant close to their hearts, imitating his simplicity and humility.
        Thus, by his own humility and poverty, his glory has shown into the world, and he has become a light to the nations. To our own hearts, he shows us our struggle to seek glory here and there through all the ways of the world – our work, our play, our inventions or our dreams. Against our struggle, he comes to us an infant, smiles at us, and asks us to hold him. He asks us to be simple. He asks us to accept his peace, as would a little child. Mary, his mother, handing that Infant to us from her own arms declares to us that by her little Child, God has “shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:51-52 NRSVCE). So, in coming to us not as in the world's glory, but in simplicity (having nothing, but those who said “Yes”), he has overcome the struggle of the world. And this is his glory.

Come, Infant Jesus! +

Empty Rituals or Encounters of Love?

         There are many people who look at Catholics, and they see lots of striving, lots of empty or vain movements toward God in some effort to become holy. When they see so many Catholics going through the daily, weekly rituals, they see people seeking God through “religion” – man-made religion – whether it be through prayers of the daily Rosary or the Stations of the Cross, the daily reception of the Holy Eucharist or even once in a lifetime events like receiving Confirmation. Upon entering into the life of the Church, though, we see these practices of the Catholic come to life in many ways, and to really be gifts of God in his love to seek out and meet poor sinners at where they are, drawing them into his very heart.
         When we read the Gospels, we meet a Jesus who is compassionate and fully human; we meet a Jesus who has become one of us in every way, and shares his life with us in the flesh, through the things of this world. He heals with his fingers in the ears of a deaf man, and his own spit placed on the man's tongue to make him speak (Mark 7:13-35). His power goes out through the hem of his cloak, to heal one woman's disease (Mark 5:2-34). With his own breath, he imparts the Spirit of God unto the apostles, and with it the authority to forgive sins (John 20:22-23). But his desire to encounter people in tangible ways did not stop with his ascension into heaven. He continues now to pursue souls through the continuation of his body – the Church, which is the fullness of him (Ephesians 1:22-23).
         In the book of Acts, we see those tangible realities of Christ's continued mission of seeking and encountering those who are lost and in darkness, those who are in need of healing and forgiveness. With the mission given by Jesus to the apostles to baptize, St. Peter could confidently call others to the waters to receive God's gifts: “'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 2:38 NRSVCE). Water itself becomes a means of our salvation, and the Spirit meets us there to wash us (1 Peter 3:21). In other places, the apostles worked miracles of healing by the handkerchiefs that had touched their skin and their shadows that were cast over the sick (Acts 19:12; 5:15-16). It was through simple, lowly things of this world that individuals encountered the healing love of Christ.
         The heart of the Church is the Eucharist itself – Jesus' full presence in bread and wine. In the Eucharist, Jesus calls us to be united with his own soul and divinity, through his body and blood. St. Thérèse of Lisieux saw in the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion Jesus' own burning love for souls. In her own heart, she heard the words of Jesus just before dying on the Cross echoed: “I thirst” (John 19:28). And with this word, her own soul burned with love for Jesus and for souls. Many other saints have witnessed and told of Jesus' love, which burns with unquenchable flames in their souls through the Eucharist. He longs so deeply for union with our own souls, especially those of us who are poor and miserable – to wash us in his mercy. There is no chasm that Christ cannot fill with his love and mercy for us in the Eucharist. In a tiny host of bread, he humbles himself to become our source of life (see John 6:55). This is the truest encounter with Christ possible, until heaven.
         From the Eucharist flows all other encounters with Jesus throughout the Catholic life. Our prayers are filled with meditation on this most pure Sacrifice in the Eucharist, made fully present to us in the now. So, we pray the Rosary, which has it's source in the Word of God. It is a most holy meditation on the life of Christ with his mother, who was there with him and shared in his sufferings and glory (as we will, too, if we endure). We pray the Stations of the Cross to keep his love for us in our hearts and our minds. Through these deep prayers of faith, hope and love, we encounter the person of Jesus Christ and dialogue with him. We share our lives with his, and we offer them up to him and through him; for any of our prayers, any of our works of love or mercy, are only valid in him and through him. We can do nothing apart from him (John 15:5).
         Suffering does continue and grow, and we struggle. We must take up the Cross to follow Jesus, if we receive the grace from true encounters with him. Yet, we are weak and we fall. Our misery overwhelms us, perhaps. Our sinfulness becomes too real to look at straight on. But we do not deny it. Instead, we run to him who is love, who is mercy itself. We run to him in the Confessional. We pour out our hearts, and accuse ourselves before his mercy. There, he forgives us through his servant. He tells us without a doubt that we are clean again. He strengthens us in this encounter, as he breaths his spirit again upon us. “This son of mine was dead and is alive again,” the Father says (Luke 15:24 NRSVCE). We are again united with his body, the Church (for we cannot offend the love of the one, without offending the unity of both). We are one bread, one body, having our source in the Eucharist.
         If our suffering is through grave illness, we call upon his body again, in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. We confess our sins, if possible, as St. James tells us to do (James 5:14-16). The priests will then anoint us with holy oils, and impart grace to our bodies and our souls; for we are not just spirits. Through this holy sacrament, we find the Lord not leaving us in death, nor casting away these physical bodies, but caring for our entire person as the great Healer touches us. He created us, body and soul, and loves us through and through. He will not leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). The same Jesus who reached out and touched the lepers still touches us today.
         These prayers and these Sacraments, you see, then, are not the empty rituals made up by man. Instead, they are the gifts of God to his Church, his people whom he has redeemed. Even more, he is calling all souls to his love, to his unfathomable mercy, through these gifts of encounter with him. He constantly yearns and thirsts for the love of souls, especially poor sinners like you and me. There is no darkness he cannot cast away with his light. There is no depth he cannot reach with his grace. He has gone beyond the realms of the dead to bring us to himself, to unite us to himself. Will we not accept his graces? Will we not see his mercies? Will we not meet him there where he awaits for us in his humble gifts, longing to unite us to his love and heal us of our our illnesses and our brokenness? 

See also, Quotes on the Eucharist:

The Merit of Christ's Humanity

        In becoming Catholic, one realizes the necessity of knowing the heretical doctrines that the Church has struggled against throughout her history. Of the more critical are those revolving around the Person of Christ. Was he divine? Was he human? Was he both? The Church distinctly has received through revelation that Christ is both fully divine and fully human, since his conception and forever. According to the universal Church, Christ has two natures and two wills, one divine and the other human, unified in one Person. Oftentimes, though, we are tempted to believe that Christ's perfection while on earth was mainly the source of his divine will without any human struggle. Yet, we know that he is true man, and his struggles were truly human.
        “Jesus was perfect, because he was God,” we are tempted to say. “His suffering was easier, and his endurance unfailing, because he was perfect.” This is the logic born out of a misunderstanding of who Christ is. The Scriptures are clear, though, that his perfection was something to be maintained throughout his entire life, rather than some permanent disposition. No, instead, he was born without sin and had to struggle to remain perfect. He is one who “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15 NRSVCE). He truly took on our humanity, and truly humbled himself in every way.
        The letter to the Hebrews goes very much into detail how Christ merited his perfection through obedience in suffering: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb. 5:8-9 NRSVCE). We know that Christ was sinless his whole life, yet he still merited his sinlessness. The concept of “merit” is a wholly Catholic one. While the belief in the inherent “merit” of his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection is widely accepted among Christians, the “merit” of his entire life and everyday struggle leading up to his passion beginning in the Garden of Gethsemane, is often overlooked. Yet, his sacrifice of love on Calvary would be really null and void if he had not been faithful and obedient throughout his entire life. So, we see that even from a small child, his obedience to his parents was part of his sacrifice on the Cross, or the accomplishment of his other daily duties. How else could he then call us to “take up your daily cross” (Luke 9:23)?
        Christ truly had to deny himself, to humble himself continually, in order to submit to the Father's will. This constant struggle against the world and evil would be present in his daily life as a carpenter, later in his ministry of teaching and healing, while he endured the ridicule and hatred of those around him, and culminating at his Passion. In his agony at the Garden of Gethsemane, the night he was betrayed, he prayed “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NRSVCE). In this prayer, the Church has recognized the presence of his two wills. She has understood that Christ's humanity was complete and full; his humility in becoming one of us was perfect, limiting himself unto weakness and lowliness. His struggle against trial and temptation was great, greater than anyone has endured, knowing full well who he was and what was to happen to him.
        Every drop of his blood, then, is not only precious because of his divinity, but also because of his great struggle over sin and death as a man. Let us not, then, commit the mistake of perceiving Christ as having won the fight before it started. Every day of his life, every moment of agony in the Garden, every step along the path to Calvary, carrying his cross, every tear shed in suffering was an act of enduring obedience to God the Father out of love. His will was not opposed to the Father's, but he had to submit his will to the Father's. Through his constant devotion of love to the Father, he was able to conquer the entire world, to conquer sin, to overcome all suffering and even death. And by his obedience in suffering, he was made perfect.
        Let us take part in his perfected humanity that he shares with us. If we unite our own sufferings with his – all of our trials and temptations, cares and concerns – we can conquer victoriously over all things in the world, even death. There is nothing that can separate us from his love. There is nothing that Christ the King of kings can not conquer through us and in us. Take heart; we are his vessels, carrying about in our bodies his death, so that his life may be abundant through us and our joy may be complete. Let us cherish his flesh and his blood given for us this day.

The Witness of Marriage

         In the beginning of human history, the natural phenomenon of marriage arose. We are all witnesses to its source, readily seen in nature and perceived through reason. There is a natural ecology to marriage, which when followed to its fullest potential has the power to beckon us to a sanctified purpose and to the highest love. Self-giving and sacrifice are at the heart of the bond of marriage. In proper order, that same ecology can bring health and peace, not only to ourselves, but also to the whole world through enduring love.
         The ability to procreate, two sexes in union creating new life, was the means of successively keeping the human race growing and, eventually, to survive. Sex itself was and is the positive means by which humans participate in the creative act. The mutual giving of one's self, in complementarity, brings forth the most beautiful of all creatures, a new human life, endowed with a soul. Love, being the service by self-giving, is not unfruitful. The true loving union of two who give of themselves fully, between equal and complementary parts, gives birth to life. True love is creative.
         The principal purpose of sex, then, is for the creation of new life. This is obvious from all of nature by any simple scientific observation. We have reduced sex in our western culture, though, simply to a source of pleasure, as though it were a biological necessity to experience physical ecstasy on a regular basis for the survival of each individual. The holy virgins of the Church prove us wrong by their lives of consecration, setting themselves aside for their singular devotion to the Lord, simultaneously giving witness to the sacred purpose of sex and of family. When sex is not open to its inherent purpose of begetting new life, then sex is only a mimicking of its truth, and the parties withhold of their full selves.
         That new life, given to us as a little baby, is the immediate proof of two individuals who gave of themselves, one to the other in love, even if for one brief instant. (Of course, we are perplexed and distraught when a child is the product of abuse against the capability to love, though the child is still proof of a mother's love and her life giving capacity). We expect, as society, for that child to be provided for its safety, protection and provision of food, shelter and love. It has been scientifically proven that infants will die without human interaction, without the regular touch of another human. The nurturing touch of a mother is especially crucial in the healthy development of her children. The beautiful gift of life demands the responsibility of committed love.
         This fruitful union between male and female, then, requires a permanency if it is to fulfill its full end, that is, to beget new life and to nurture it into full growth—socially, physically and spiritually healthy. There is a special responsibility on the part of the parents to lovingly care for those children for as long as needed. The sustainability of the family unity is crucial for the well-being of the children, as well as the parents themselves. There is no doubt that care for a child, and especially multiple children, is the work of two adults, as opposed to one. There is also no doubt that fidelity and consistency is a crucial part of relationship building and social skills for forming healthy children and adults. Unless the father and mother are ravenous, violent and deeply disordered individuals, it is always better to have the biological parents to care for their biological children, whenever possible.
         Thus, the natural origin of marriage as a permanent union between one male and one female arose at the first child's conception. Marriage is a necessity, as a human societal construct, for the good of all children. It is a necessity for the stability of society itself, to properly care for one another and to ensure the proper growth of the human race. The indissolubility of marriage is essential to its function of responsibility, just as the union of sexual complementarity is essential to its function of procreation. The dignity of marriage, then, proceeds from the great responsibility and gift of life.
         Let us not neglect, however, the spiritual component of the sexual act and, therefore, marriage itself. Humans are not reducible to flesh and blood, eggs and seeds or, worse, to reproductive parts or the pleasure derived in their use. Instead, we have emotions, intellects, wills and spirits. The giving of our individual self, with the capacity to beget life in our own image, is one of the greatest vulnerabilities and intimacies of our human existence. Of course, our entire being will be drawn into such an act. To perform this act in any way contrary to the necessary dignity of marriage is to participate fully in the “throw-away” or disposable culture about which Pope Francis so often speaks. We give up part of our spirit, our will, our own dignity whenever we participate in sex that is contrary to the full dignity of marriage, open to the power of life and its responsibilities. In that way, we dispose of our own selves, degrading and destroying ourselves in an effort of self-gratification. True love does not partake in destruction of the human person.
         The fullness of marriage, then, is realized only in the full and faithful mutual self-giving, within the context of the great possibility of its rightful, blessed, life-giving consequences. The whole ecology of the human person demands the dignity of such a relationship, as well as the whole ecology of human society. To violate the bounds of marriage is to harm the individuals involved, to harm children, and to harm society. The state of marriage and the act of self-giving in marriage through sex is sacred.
         For this reason, Christ elevated marriage to a new and sanctified level. As the Catholic Church is witness to it, Christ instituted marriage as a sacrament for all Christians. By making vows to one another, each Christian spouse partakes in the grace of God to fulfill a vocation for the purpose of being a sign in the world and to one another of Christ's own love. “'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church' (Eph. 5:31-32 NRSVCE). The holy matrimony of two Christians, becoming one flesh, is the efficacious sign of Christ being one flesh, one spirit, with his bride, the Church. It is an indissoluble covenant relationship. Through this sacrament, Christ imparts his grace to the spouses and to the family, to the children begotten through such love. The sanctification of the spouses, as well as others, is the main effect of the sacrament of holy matrimony. By it, love abounds more and more.

You Witnesses

         You may be a Christian and reading this now. Perhaps you have witnessed in your own country a degrading of marriage in many ways. Especially in the western world, we have witnessed a breakdown of the rightful purpose of marriage, as well as its natural and spiritual effects. Perhaps you have witnessed a legalization of divorce and remarriage, premarital or extramarital sex being promoted, contraception being used to hinder the natural, life-giving blessings of sex, or homosexuality being promoted or legalized in some way. Perhaps you are wondering what to do now, or perhaps you believe you already know what to do. Some of you are honest, gentle and loving people, knowing that the Lord requires us to “act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Some of you are sorely mistaken in your concept of love, which in reality is the perfect blending of mercy and justice, the two not being opposed.
         Let us not be confused of our own Christian duties: we must love. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. The second is to love your neighbor as your self (Mark 12:28-31). In the context of marriage and family, we must first love our families. We must show obedience and patience to our parents; we must submit ourselves to our spouses in long-suffering faithfulness and kindness; we must be merciful and gentle with our children, teaching them and providing for their needs. If we cannot love within our own home, then it means little to love those outside our homes. We must seek the highest good of those in our families at all times, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.
         Then, we must love those neighbors not within our families. We do this by humble service to all, first recognizing our own need of God's grace and mercy, so that we may impart it to others. Jesus taught us to love everyone the same. “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you,” he taught (Matt. 5:41-42 NRSVCE). Later, he gave us a new commandment, which requires us to give entirely of ourselves for one another, as Christ gave up his own life for us (John 13:34). We must continually humble ourselves before others, so as to imitate Christ and to to walk in the Spirit. So, the Scriptures tell us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” and, also, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (1 Pet. 5:5; Matt. 5:7 NRSVCE).
         If you believe that by condemning someone you live the life of Christ, then you are sorely mistaken. We will only live the life of Christ by seeking the lost, healing the broken-hearted, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor, caring for the sick and clothing the naked. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. If we do not carry the death of Jesus in our bodies, then we will never have the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:10). Therefore, we should look to those who have gone before us in our Catholic faith. We should look to the confessors and martyrs who have loved God above all else and others more than their own lives, giving of themselves until there was nothing left to give. St. Maximilian Kölbe was one of them, giving his life in the place of another in Auschwitz. Pope John Paul II called him a “martyr of charity.” There is no greater love. Like the Great Physician, we should go out to be with those effected by the sickness of sin and death. We must honor everyone more than ourselves. We must go to the outcast, the deserted, the abandoned. We must love all with the unquenchable, infinite and compassionate desire that Christ has for all human souls. Then, and only then, will love win.

O God, I have fallen short of many things, especially your glory.
I have sinned through my own fault, my most grievous fault.
Yet, you have come to save, not to condemn.
You have come to set captives free and to heal the brokenhearted.
I have been such a captive, and you will have nothing less than my freedom.
Grant me, O God, the grace to live the life of love to which you have called us.
Let there be none who escapes your love through me.
Let there be not one soul to whom I am neighbor that does not see your heart,
pierced through for infinite love and oceans of mercy awaiting them.
May your love, which is like the mighty mountains, strengthen our marriages.
May your faithfulness, which extends to the heavens, stretch out to meet our families.
May fathers, mothers and children act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you.
May your Spirit fill our hearts, pouring out your grace to fulfill our purpose.
Holy, holy, holy is your name.
May you sanctify us in body and soul, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Immaculate one, Mother of the Redeemer, pray for us.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us.

St. Maximilian Kölbe, pray for us.

St. John Paul II, pray for us.

St. John XXIII, pray for us.

St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.

St. Jude, pray for us.